NEW YORK/GENEVA, JULY 17 – With thousands of refugees and migrants being pulled from the Mediterranean Sea each week, UNICEF is warning that a proposed code of conduct for NGOs carrying out search and rescue missions could put many lives at risk – especially those of children.
The new code being proposed by Italian authorities to crack down on trafficking and smuggling prioritizes law enforcement, while limiting the movement and operations of NGO rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean – changes which could inadvertently hinder rescues and cause deaths.
“Since the start of the migration crisis, Italy has made incredible efforts to save refugees and migrants stranded at sea and provide support to those who have reached its shores,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.
“Italy should be applauded for this. At the same time, law enforcement and security objectives – no matter how justifiable – must not inadvertently prevent lifesaving work to save children from drowning.”
Under the proposed code, NGO vessels would be prevented from entering Libyan waters to conduct rescues and barred from making phone calls or firing flares to signal their location to migrant boats in distress. The code would also allow for police and security officials to board NGO vessels, potentially compromising NGO independence, and includes a plan whereby children are at greater risk of being returned to Libya without any protection measures in place, exposing them to the very deprivations, harm and grave violations that caused them to flee in the first place.
Nearly 90,000 refugees and migrants – 15 per cent of whom are children – have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year. This is 70,000 more arrivals than for all the other EU countries in the Mediterranean combined. Between January and June 2017 UNICEF-supported teams on rescue boats identified 2,343 children at risk and provided nearly 1,000 women and children with hygiene items and other basic supplies on the boats.
“Italy continues to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden for the care and support of refugees and migrants across the EU,” said Forsyth. “But restrictions on sea rescues or sending refugee children back to Libya are not solutions. The rest of the EU and international community more broadly must step up to help Italy, by supporting rescue missions, allowing boats to disembark and doing the right thing for children uprooted.” (@OnuItalia)